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Be of good cheer everyone – we approach the end of these ceremonies. The president is now supposed to offer wise words to our graduates. As I am wont to say at this late stage of our long commencement proceedings, I always feel like the corpse at an Irish wake. They need you to have the party, but they don’t expect you to say anything. Brevity will rule.
Let’s turn our minds to successful institutions like William & Mary and successful people like the Class of 2013. It’s fair to say successful institutions and people are always adapting creatively to change and trying to do better, even when they’re already doing very well.
One obvious reason for all of us to remain under construction is that the world is constantly changing around us – its people, its technology, and its understanding of reality. When I was in college – yes, it’s true, I was once in college when dinosaurs roamed the earth – back then, geologists were just beginning to imagine that tectonic plates well beneath the earth’s crust might be constantly sliding the continents around and crashing them into one another. Well, it isn’t just tectonic plates that are bumping and grinding away. The way we gather and exchange information keeps changing at blazing speed, and things keep coming at us from all directions and many different cultural perspectives. These days we either remain under construction or we quickly become irrelevant.
Simply put, to live life meaningfully is to change. This takes, among other virtues, a capacity to think rigorously, an ability to tackle problems creatively, and an openness to ideas and cultures different from our own. I believe William & Mary prepares its students for rigorous thinking, creative problem solving, and the capacity to keep expanding intellectual and cultural horizons.
But, it’s also crucial to know what not to change even as everything else in our lives does. We need anchors to steady us, especially when the wind howls and the rain pours.
Each of us has to forge our own anchors if they are to be powerful enough for us personally to hold us when times get tough. Let me suggest four anchors that seem especially important to me.
First, integrity – taking care to conduct our lives so we can look at ourselves in the mirror every day.
Second, a capacity to give and receive love from other people, and to give and receive friendship.
Third, a willingness to devote some of our time and talent to the service of others, without any need to be paid for helping.
And fourth, a belief in something greater than ourselves, whether this belief is rooted in religious faith or another commitment that transcends any sense that we personally are the center of all that matters.
So, graduates, expect to remain under constant construction and welcome the opportunities that come with that recreation. But also know what not to change even as everything else does. Forge powerful personal anchors to hold you true to your core commitments even during times of great change.
And, of course, beyond the four anchors that I just mentioned, there is one other anchor worth mentioning -- a lifelong tie to your alma mater, the magnificent College of William & Mary. The College will care about you always, and you should care about it.
Now it is time for a rousing cheer -- a roaring salute to our royal progenitors, King William and Queen Mary and then to the marvelous Class of 2013. First we’ll roar for our King and Queen. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. Then we’ll cheer for you graduates. If you hadn’t scaled William & Mary’s academic heights and emerged on top with your fur intact, we wouldn’t be here either. Let’s roar in “call and response” mode. I’ll call for a cheer for King William and all the men in the hall will respond William, three times. Then the same for Queen Mary with all the women responding.
And finally it’ll be time for the greatest roar of them all, for the Class of 2013. I’ll call and you’ll respond in one great body “twenty thirteen, twenty thirteen, twenty thirteen.”